Volume 7 Number 6
The OPAL Project: Developing An Automated Online Reference System For Distance Learners
Georgina Payne, Research Assistant
and Dr David Bradbury, Research Fellow
The OPAL Project
Open University Library, Open University
Milton Keynes, United Kingdom
In November 2000, the Open University Library <http://oulib1.open.ac.uk> embarked on a research project to develop a 24-hour fully-automated reference service for distance students. The aim of the project, named OPAL (Online Personal Academic Librarian) <http://oulib1.open.ac.uk/wh/research/opal/> is to develop a system capable of supporting the out-of-hours reference and information needs of the Open University's (OU) 200,000 distance learners.
The OU is an institution based on distance learning. Prior to the advent of the web the OU Library played a minor role in student studies, and instead focussed on the needs of research staff based at the OU headquarters in Milton Keynes. The opportunity has now arisen to develop the library as a web-based service, offering distance learners access to a wide range of information resources that can be delivered online. For this purpose the OU Library has developed Open Libr@ry <http://oulib1.open.ac.uk/openlibrary/index.htm>, an online information resource portal. Following the introduction of Open Libr@ry services to students, there has been a significant increase in the number of enquiries that have to be handled by the Library's Learner Support Team. It is clear a large number of staff would be needed to handle the potential number of enquiries that could be submitted by Open University's 200,000 students. These students are based both in the UK and acround the world, and around 50 percent of library enquiries are received out-of-office hours from students studying in the evenings, on weekends, or in different time zones. This means that some students may have to wait an entire weekend before receiving a response from the OU Learner Support team. OU Library enquiry statistics also show that around 60% of these enquiries are routine requests for information relating to journals, services and passwords.
The vision behind OPAL is to develop a tailor-made system capable of answering these routine and repeat enquiries, with emphasis placed on developing a system geared to understanding and answering enquiries specifically from the library and information knowledge domain. It is hoped that using OPAL, students will be able to submit their enquiry in natural language at any time and from any location, and receive an immediate automated response. It is also hoped that the OPAL system will be transferable and extendable to libraries beyond the OU. For this reason the OU Library is working with project partners at the University of Leicester Library Distance Learning Unit <http://www.le.ac.uk/li/distance/index.htm> and the University of London's Birkbeck College Library <http://www.bbk.ac.uk/lib/index.html>.
As a second stage in the project, the team also plans to use agent-based architecture to create a generic "artificial librarian" <http://oulib1.open.ac.uk/wh/research/opal/artificial.html>, capable of answering more complex questions about library resources. This stage of the project will draw from work on artificial intelligence question-answer systems carried out at the OU Knowledge Media Institute <http://kmi.open.ac.uk/>. The Knowledge Media Institute specialises in the development of near-term future technologies for sharing, accessing, and understanding knowledge, such as the use of organisational memory and the use of intelligent agent systems.
The Moving Image Gateway
Head of Information
British Universities Film & Video Council
London, United Kingdom
The Moving Image Gateway (MIG), produced by the British Universities Film & Video Council (BUFVC), is a classified database of moving image-related websites (with some radio and sound sites included) of value to higher and further education. Initially numbering some 400 sites, the MIG uniquely identifies not only websites of interest and value in the study of film or television, but highlights sites that use moving images and sound to impart information across a whole range of academic disciplines. The sites have been selected and evaluated by BUFVC staff and cover producers, broadcasters, distributors, databases, discussion lists, e-journals, footage sources, video sales, vacancies, archives, film festivals and general information sources. Searches can be conducted either over the entire MIG, or restricted by academic discipline, which are gathered together under four main categories: Arts & Humanities, Bio-Medical, Science & Technology and Social Sciences. The range of over forty disciplines within these broad headings goes from Agriculture to Current Affairs to Ethnology to Medicine to Women's Studies. Each entry on the MIG has a short description and guide to best use. The sites containing streamed video or audio are marked with icons, and indicate the required formats (QuickTime, Real, Windows Media Player) as well as whether the resources are freely available or not. A further feature is a 'Site of the Month' for each of the four main categories.
The MIG is being developed with the idea that it will eventually operate alongside the BUFVC's Researcher's Guide Online, or RGO <http://www.bufvc.ac.uk/rgo>, a guide to film, television, radio and related documentation collections in the UK. To this end the MIG will adopt the RSLP Collections Description Schema, developed by the UK's Office of Library Networks (UKOLN), which underpins the RGO. The MIG is still in a developmental stage, with the intention being to raise the number of entries to 600. Further features are to be added, and the BUFVC welcomes any comments, corrections to existing records, or suggestions for improvements to what is hoped will become a popular and useful resource, and a certain means of demonstrating the value of moving images and sound for learning and teaching. While the MIG is in its current test mode it remains accessible to all, but it is envisaged that in a couple months' time, it will become available to UK higher and further education and BUFVC members only. More information can be found at <http://www.bufvc.ac.uk/gateway>.
Resource Announces Expert Forum Series
Resource: The Council for Museums, Archives and Libraries
London, United Kingdom
UK public libraries are facing a diverse and complex range of issues as they implement networked service development and delivery.
To facilitate discussion and identify ways of addressing some of these issues, Resource has developed its Expert Forum Series. So far, meetings have been held on procurement of electronic datasets and data gathering and performance indicators for networked services, which have led to some clear and positive action lines for Resource. Forums on other issues will follow over the next few months and will be supported by a programme of events. A pool of expertise will be established as discussions take place and will be made available online at <http://www.peoplesnetwork.gov.uk/forum-series/index.html>.
A separate but related series of discussions is the Forum for Network Co-ordination. Facilitated by Resource on behalf of DCMS and DFEE with the support of the Office of the e-Envoy, the Forum for Network Co-ordination is represented by numerous organisations, Government Departments and initiatives under the umbrella of learning and lifelong learning as a means of encouraging shared discussion and debate about the whole spectrum of issues associated with implementing ICT networks.
The Forum is already showing encouraging signs of becoming an important
focus for strategic debate across the network landscape and may help to bring a greater degree of coherence and co-ordinated future planning across these initiatives.
For further details see the draft concordat and other papers on the web site at <http://www.peoplesnetwork.gov.uk/forum/index.html>.
Exploring Charging Models for Digital Cultural Heritage
Senior Digitisation Consultant (HEDS)
Higher Education Digitisation Service
University of Hertfordshire
To explore the charging models for digital content of cultural institutions in the UK and Europe, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has awarded a grant to the Higher Education Digitisation Service (HEDS).
- study how pricing structures are determined for delivering digital versions of rare or unique items in libraries, museums, archives and similar public institutions.
- investigate how these digital pricing structures compare to those used for the delivery of the same or similar resources in analogue form.
- explore the thresholds that determine the point at which an organization charges for the sale of content and other rights to their digital holdings and the reasons given for such charges.
To discover the underlying motivation driving charging and rights policies, HEDS will use relative and comparative cost modeling with a framework of opinion-based research.
This work will help the community to compare and assess costs for delivering digital content against a realistic model.
HEDS provides consultancy and production services for digitisation and digital library development to all sectors of education, libraries, museums and other non-profit organizations.
Further information about HEDS can be found at <http://heds.herts.ac.uk
The British Library Co-operation and Partnership Programme and the Full Disclosure Prioritisation Study
Full Disclosure Project Officer
The British Library, Co-operation and Partnership Programme
London, United Kingdom
The British Library Co-operation and Partnership Programme (CPP) was launched in April 1999 with the objective of encouraging and facilitating partnerships and collaborative activity in five key areas; access, collection development, preservation and retention, bibliographic services, and record creation. The programme works with other organisations in the library archive and museum domains, bringing people together through its seminar and workshop programme, and through the brokering of project partnerships. As well as managing it's own fund, which has provided over £1 million of support for practical co-operative projects in libraries, archives and museums over the last three years, the CPP works in partnership with the Wellcome Trust to administer Research Resources in Medical History. This grants scheme will provide a further £1 million over two years for the support of projects that improve access to and preservation of medically important collections.
The CPP also directly supports Full Disclosure, the national strategy for retrospective catalogue conversion and retrospective cataloguing and documentation, by contributing both staff and funding to the initiative and by hosting the Full Disclosure Implementation Group (FDIG). FDIG comprises representatives from each of the domains and from the various sectors within those domains. The group works together to: monitor and co-ordinate existing retrospective conversion activity; promote the strategy and create awareness in the various domains; disseminate information via the internet and traditional routes; look for funding opportunities and to bid for funding; and demonstrate cross-domain links to potential funding bodies.
Significant recent activities of the group include working with funding bodies to put together a robust framework document to guide applicants and funding bodies on strategic priorities for the retrospective conversion of catalogue or documentation data and the retrospective cataloguing or documentation of non-current acquisitions, and the successful tendering of the Full Disclosure Prioritisation Study. The study will further assess priorities for retrospective catalogue conversion and retrospective cataloguing in libraries, archives and museums in the UK. The contract to undertake the study has been awarded to the Cultural Heritage Consortium; a consultancy group formed especially for this task by members of Education for Change and Acumen, together with independent consultants. The Cultural Heritage Consortium will develop and refine criteria by which these priorities can be established. These criteria will then be taken forward and used to produce concrete named priorities for retrospective conversion and retrospective cataloguing projects. Recommendations for implementing priorities will also be developed as part of the study.
More information about the Co-operation and Partnership Programme and the Full Disclosure initiative can be found at <http://www.bl.uk/concord>.
2001 International Paper Contest on Digital Library or Information Science & Technology in Developing Countries
Sue O'Neill Johnson
Senior Information Projects Officer, Past Chair, ASIST SIG III
The World Bank
1818 H St NW, Washington, DC 20433, U.S.A.
Shared Indexing and Preservation Network Unit Chief
Dag Hammarskjold Library, The United Nations
New York City, NY. 19917, U.S.A.
The American Society for Information Science and Technology (ASIST), International Information Issues SIG (SIG III), invites information professionals who are citizens of developing countries, and currently residing in a developing country to submit a paper in the "2001 International Paper Contest on Digital Library or Information Science & Technology in Developing Countries". The manuscripts, not to exceed 6000 words, are due by July 31, 2001.
The paper topic could be at the country or regional level. Papers could present a leading edge, salient and/or current issue, problem, concern, policy, idea or practice of information science and technology in the developing world such as, but not limited to, the following: the digital divide, privacy and copyright issues, electronic theses and dissertations, globalization and cultural identity, indigenous peoples, knowledge management, development of electronic resources across networks, bringing information access to distant and/or disadvantaged communities, or language issue. The papers should be original, unpublished, and in English. We encourage submissions from librarians, information and network specialists, and educators involved in the creation, representation, maintenance, exchange, discovery, delivery, and use of digital information. Judges will include Sue O'Neill Johnson, The World Bank; Margarita Studemeister, U.S. Institute of Peace; Dr. Hal Borko, Professor Emeritus, UCLA; and Nathalie Leroy, Dag Hammarskjöld Library, United Nations.
The prize for each winner is a two-year individual membership in ASIST. In the case of multiple authors, the principal author will be awarded the ASIST membership.
There will be four winning papers, to be presented at the annual conference in Washington, DC, 3 - 8 November 2001. The conference session will be moderated by Nathalie Leroy, Dag Hammarskjöld Library, United Nations. The discussion leader will be Sylvia Piggott, Deputy Division Chief and Deputy Chief Librarian, World Bank-IMF Joint Library. If winners cannot attend the conference, an ASIST member will read their paper on their behalf.
Submitted papers will be considered for posting on the SIG III web site as pre-publications. In addition, they will also be considered for inclusion in the ASIST Bulletin, based on the decision of Editor-in-Chief, Irene Travis, Ph.D. Papers will also be reviewed for inclusion in a special issue of the International Information and Library Review, Academic Press, subject to the usual peer refereeing process.
Submission of full papers
Authors are encouraged to submit papers electronically. For more information or to submit manuscripts, please contact Nathalie Leroy by e-mail at the following address: <firstname.lastname@example.org>.
ASIST SIG III thanks Academic Press, Haworth Press, and Basch Subscriptions for their support of the Competition.
Relevant web sites for information in developing countries
ASIST SIG III web site containing papers from the 2000 Competition:
UN Technical Assistance Program for Small and Field Libraries:
Free Training Materials for librarians in developing countries:
The Virginia Historical Inventory
Project Manager, Digital Library Program
The Library of Virginia
Richmond, Virginia, USA
The Library of Virginia's Digital Library Program (DLP)
announces the availability of the Virginia Historical Inventory
Project, funded in part by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation in 1997.
The Virginia Historical Inventory (VHI) is a collection of
detailed reports, photographs, and maps, documenting the
cultural, and family histories of thousands of 18th- and 19th-century
buildings in communities across Virginia. Workers for the Works
Progress Administration (WPA) project documented, assessed, and
photographed early structures (many of which do not survive today),
creating a pictorial and textual prism through which architects,
genealogists, economists, social historians, journalists, researchers,
and the general public can study a unique record of Virginia's past.
The collection consists of more than 19,300 survey reports (consisting
of approximately 70,000 pages), more than 6,200 photographs, and 103
annotated county and city maps. Unlike the more well-known Historic American Buildings Survey, which
documents prominent historical structures, the VHI was specifically
charged with describing the vernacular architecture and history of
everyday buildings: homes, workplaces, churches, and public buildings.
This aspect of the project makes the existence of photographs that
more valuable (and poignant): many of these structures no longer
and the VHI photographs may be the only extant visual records of them. VHI writers did not restrict their reports to structures, however.
There are also reports on cemeteries (often including detailed
tombstone information), antiques, historical events, and personages,
well as transcriptions of land grants, wills, deeds, diaries, and
To accomplish the online presentation of the VHI, the DLP has
from microfilm all of the survey reports, scanned all of the photographs from the original
prints, and prepared full-level cataloging
records for each of the reports and photographs. In cooperation with
VTLS, Inc., the Library has also developed an interactive digital
interface for the maps. Finally, the DLP has collected together within
one interface links to all the material available for a specific
The VHI digital project makes it possible for a user to search the
survey report database, view the image of the report, then retrieve
corresponding map and the photograph. The researcher may also search
interface to find a specific geographical location, and then review
specific survey report for that site. Or, a researcher may search the
photographs and retrieve the corresponding survey report and map to
provide a context for each image. An additional feature makes it
possible for a researcher to choose a particular locality, then view
the locations and reports for categories of structures, such as
churches, dwellings, taverns, school buildings, cemeteries, commercial
buildings, bridges, and historic sites.
The URL for the Library of Virginia is <http://www.lva.lib.va.us> and
VHI resource is available on the Digital Library Program Home Page.
For more information contact Elizabeth Roderick, Director, Digital
Library Program, The Library of Virginia <email@example.com>.
New Listserv for the People's Network Project
Resource: The Council for Museums, Archives and Libraries
London, United Kingdom
Resource has established a new email discussion list devoted to one of its flagship projects -- the People's Network.
Established through the UK national academic mailing list service, JISCmail, <firstname.lastname@example.org> exists primarily to disseminate authoritative and up-to-date news and information about the People's Network project and to encourage discussion within and beyond the public library community on a wide range of topics relating to the implementation and development of the People's Network.
The People's Network Development Team based at Resource, will use this list as a fast and effective means of briefing library authorities about the latest developments relating to the project, but also to engage in two-way communication with subscribers in order to elicit feedback on a variety of topics that will feed into the management and sustainability of the project.
People who subscribe will be able to send messages to the list to share information with colleagues such as promoting key local and regional People's Network related landmarks and for asking questions about specific issues they are facing in relation to the implementation of the People's Network.
The list will be of particular relevance to anyone who works in a public library context and is involved in the delivery of the People's Network at local, regional and national levels. The list will also be of interest to colleagues from other sectors and domains working in the arenas of online public information delivery or Information and Communications Technology (ICT) learning initiatives.
The easiest way to subscribe to the list is to visit <http://www.jiscmail.ac.uk/lists/peoplesnetwork.html> and submit your details via the online form provided.
Request for Comments - The UK Government Data Standards Catalogue
U.K. Office for Library and Information Networking (UKOLN)
University of Bath
Bath, United Kingdom
"The Government Data Standards Catalogue sets out the rationale,
approach and rules for setting and agreeing upon the set of Government Data Standards (GDS) to be used in the schemas and other interchange processes. It also contains the standards agreed to date. These standards are also recommended for data storage at the business level."
This potentially important document, the first of three, has just been
released for comment by the UK Government. Comments are requested by 26 June 2001.
Visit <http://www.govtalk.gov.uk/schema/Schema_IntentView.asp?Which=32&Source=SC> to view the draft, to comment, and to view the comments submitted by others. Alternatively, go to <http://www.govtalk.gov.uk> and select "Request for Comments" from the side bar.
Scientific American Archive Online
Nissen Public Relations
With the recent launch of Scientific American Archive Online, issues of Scientific American from 1993 to the present are now available on the web. The archived materials include the complete text and graphics of articles. Scientific American covers every subject related to science, so the Archive might be of interest to students, researchers, or general science enthusiasts.
The Archive is available by subscription or by pay-per-view. Also offered is a one-month free trial, but this offer is for institutions only.
To access the online content, users must have Version 4.0 or higher of either Netscape or Microsoft Internet Explorer.
Please see the web site for more information at <http://www.sciamarchive.org>.
In the News
Excerpts from Recent Press Releases
CURL Partners with OCLC in Collection Analysis Pilot Project
"DUBLIN, Ohio, June 1, 2001--The Consortium of University Research
Libraries (CURL) in the British Isles has begun a collection analysis
pilot project with the OCLC Lacey Product Center in Washington, USA, to
improve information about the scope and depth of holdings of research
libraries in the United Kingdom.
"...An estimated 3.2 million bibliographic records will be provided from the
local systems of the six libraries involved in the project: Edinburgh
University Library; University of Hull Library; Imperial College of
Science, Technology & Medicine; Central Library, the University of
Liverpool Sydney Jones Library; Natural History Museum and the School of
Oriental and African Studies."
For the full press release, see <http://www.oclc.org/oclc/press/20010601.shtm>.
Webcast Provides Marketing Resources to Support @ Your Library Campaign
"ST. PAUL, Minn. – May 21, 2001 – 3M's live Webcast "How to Market @ your libraryTM, Creating Your Five-Year Campaign," introduced library professionals around the world to the @ your libraryTM, campaign, a five-year public awareness program by the American Library Association (ALA). The event is now archived for viewing at www.3M.com/library."
"The 30-minute Webcast features leaders from public, academic, school and state libraries, along with leaders from the ALA, and delivers several marketing resources to help library professionals create their own local, five-year @ your library campaigns. Also, now available are six sample @ your library campaign plans customized specifically for public, academic, school and state libraries and a video message from Nancy Kranich, ALA President."
Also available are the following resources: a prework workbook, "Developing a Vision for Your Library"; a participant manual, "Marketing Guide"; and a Facilitator's Guide and Slide Presentation.
For the full press release and links to the downloadable resources, see <http://www.3M.com/market/security/library/press/releases/webcastrelease.jhtml>.
Lorcan Dempsey to Head Office of Research
"DUBLIN, Ohio, May 21, 2001--Lorcan Dempsey, director of Distributed
National Electronic Resource, King's College, London, England, has been
named vice president, OCLC Office of Research, effective July 16."
"'OCLC is fortunate to have found a librarian of Lorcan's caliber to head
the Office of Research," said Jay Jordan, OCLC president and chief
executive officer. "His experience combines the practical and the
theoretical with an important global perspective. He has been
extensively involved in applied research and development, with the aim
of informing policy and influencing practice. He has helped shape
significant programs in the United Kingdom and Europe.'"
For the full press release, see <http://www.oclc.org/oclc/press/20010521.shtm>.
SCRAN and AMICO to Collaborate: The Scottish Cultural Resources Access
Agrees to Distribute The AMICO Library
"May 16, 2001 - AMICO Headquarters; Pittsburgh, PA. The Art Museum Image Consortium (AMICO) has entered into a broad
agreement with the Scottish Cultural Resources Access Network (SCRAN).
organizations will share knowledge and expertise in the networked
cultural heritage. SCRAN plans to add The AMICO Library to the existing
services available to primary and secondary schools throughout the
Kingdom beginning in the fall of 2001, and may also distribute to
and/or Higher Educational institutions and public libraries in the U.K.
and SCRAN will share specifications and tools, explore issues of
access, and look to make SCRAN resources available in North America to
For the full press release, see <http://www.amico.org/docs/press/pr.010516.AMICOSCRAN.html>.
ingenta Announces 348 Percent Increase in Gross Profits
"CAMBRIDGE, - May 15, 2001 - ingenta plc, global market leader in the
distribution of published scientific, professional and academic
today announces interim results for the six months to March 31, 2001."
- Revenue increased by 294% to £4.6m ($6.7m) (2000: £1.2m)
- Gross profits up 348% to £3.5m ($5.0m) (2000: £0.8m)
- Gross margin up from 67% to 76%"
- "Cash balances at March 31, 2001 were £8.6m ($12.2m) (30 September 2000:
- Trading for the current year comfortably in line with expectations
- Current projections indicate ingenta is on target to become profitable
cash generative by the end of 2001"
For the full press release, see <http://www.ingenta.com/isis/general/Jsp/ingenta?target=/
Teaching Art Digitally: The Art Museum Image Consortium Offers Model
"May 15, 2001 - Art Museum Image Consortium; Pittsburgh, PA. The Art Museum Image Consortium (AMICO) is pleased to announce that a variety of model art history assignments are now available on their public web site at http://www.amico.org. AMICO was developed to open up the vast hidden collections of art museums to teachers and students of art history. The AMICO Library's great strength for teaching is that it does not duplicate the teaching canon of an university slide library but augments it with tens of thousands of important art objects that do not appear in current printed textbooks and monographs. Since the array of entirely new
material - much of it previously unpublished and unstudied by scholars - that is contained in The AMICO LibraryTM can be overwhelming to a new user and might require some orientation, these model assignments are designed to introduce students and their teachers to the possibilities of this vast resource. These models were created by Peter Walsh, a former director of publications for the Harvard University Art Museums who has extensive knowledge of the use of museum collections in publishing, new technology, and teaching. Mr. Walsh writes and speaks frequently on the effects of technology on the perception of art and art history, was a guest lecturer on image copyright and new technology at Dartmouth College, and is the chairman of the Massachusetts Art Commission and the Committee on Intellectual Property of the College Art Association."
"After surveying the studio art and art history courses offered by
AMICO Library subscribers, Mr. Walsh determined major areas of
with works described in The AMICO Library. The model assignments he
seek to highlight strengths of The AMICO Library as a teaching resource
to provide launching points for humanities faculty to see how images and
information from The AMICO Library could be incorporated in class
assignments. Mr. Walsh notes, "the depth and breadth of The AMICO
can often be daunting to a newcomer, especially when faculty members are
presented with works they have never encountered before. The hope of
assignments is to help faculty understand the range of works in The
Library, as well as how the digital format can really allow them to be
creative in the ways they structure assignments and incorporate works of
art into the learning process."
For the full press release, see <http://www.amico.org/docs/press/pr.010521.modelassignmts.html>.
Copyright (c) 2001 Corporation for National Research Initiatives
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